Cautionary Tales From the App Store: Buyer Beware

App Store

The App Store can be awesome, but there is a lot to be wary of.

I have often warned you of what to watch out for in the App Store (read my Tips to Identify Scam Apps). But, even I fall for scams from time to time when I'm not careful or not thinking, which is what I did yesterday when I bought a second app by the same devious developer going by a different name.

So, today I want to talk about the good and the bad in the App Store and how to tell the difference. I'll give you some more solid examples of how to get a good deal and avoid the bad ones. And, I'm going to give you an example of the devious developer that I'm talking about, while also pointing out how to identify a good developer.

One of the most important things you really need to do is actually read the full description of the app. I know it's a pain. You see an app you that really looks neat from the pictures and briefly skim the description and want to buy it right away. At least I do that sometimes. But, reading both the full description and the reviews is essential to weeding out the good from the bad.

So many people buy an app and are disappointed that it doesn't do what they think it should do because they didn't read the full description. Then, they write a negative review based on their own error in judgment, which is unfair to the developer of that app. (For more on how to be a fair reviewer in the App Store, read my How to Be a Well-Educated App Reviewer (and Consumer) post.)

Reading the reviews is also important to ensuring that you are getting a good app. However, you need to be careful. 5 stars does not a good app necessarily make. And, 3 stars does not necessarily mean the app is bad. You must read the reviews critically and not take them completely at face value.

What do I mean? Well, you know how when you buy an app that has a lot of good reviews, but it is really a bad app, you assume that the good reviews were written by friends of the developer? Sometimes that is true. But, there is another way to get good reviews on a bad app. Some developers (bad ones) use computers to generate good reviews. Most people call these bot (i.e. robot) reviews.

Bot reviews, probably

These reviews do not look very real.

But, when you know what you know what to look for, they are easy to spot. Generic bot reviews and reviews by developer “friends” often have 5 stars, but very little detail. They do not specify why the app is so great, just that it is. The photo above is by the devious developer that I was referring to. See how all the reviews are 1 line and all 5 stars.

Beware of an app with all 5-star reviews that are only 1 line each. This probably means that the reviews are not real. Some may be, but it is a red flag that the developer paid for the reviews.

Actual reviews

The mixed reviews for this app indicate that they are written by real people.

Even really good apps have their critics. A decent app should have a few 1 and 2-star reviews, along with 5-star reviews that explain why it is so good, like in the example above. Apps with all real 5-star reviews are few and far between. Everyone is going to have an opinon and some people are not going to like even a really well-made app. You have to admit, you're more likely to write a review when you hate an app than when you like it. It's human nature.

Tip: Did you know that when an app has been updated, the reviews from past versions are archived? If there aren't enough reviews to get a feel for the app, you can hit the button above the reviews and to the right that lets you see reviews for all versions of the app.

Tip: A few bad reviews about an issue doesn't mean the app is bad. But, if reviewers are consistently complaining about the same issue, you can be more assured that the problem is real. To see if the problem has been addressed, read the update notes that are located under the review. One or two people saying the app crashes could be due to the fact that those people have too many things open in multitasking. But, if a lot of people are saying it crashes, it probably does.

Devious developer website

This is the supposed App Support for the devious developer that I mentioned. It is non-existent.

Another way to check to see if the developer is the real deal is to click the App Support or Developer button that is located along the left side of the app description, in the column under the app icon in the iPad App Store and at the very bottom of the iPhone App Store.

As you can see in the photo above, the “App Support” for this app is a non-existent WordPress blog. There is nothing to indicate that you can receive any help should you have a problem with the app. This seems deceitful and it would probably be best to avoid this developer's apps.

Jixi Pix website

Jixi Pix has a full-featured website and they make it very easy to get in touch with them.

Now, Jixi Pix is a completely different story. They have a website with a direct link to contact them and a full description of all of their apps. This type of professional looking website should make you feel comfortable buying an app.

I know it seems like a lot of work to check out the developer, and I'm not suggesting that it be something you do every time. But, when the reviews look suspicious or you're going to spend more than a few dollars on an app, this is an easy way to find out whether or not it is worth your money.

Tip: Good apps update often. The developers are constantly trying to make the app better, so there are a lot of updates. To see how often an app has been updated, you can use a free app like AppShopper. Below the app description in AppShopper is a list of times the app has been updated and times the price has gone up or down.

Bad developer

Compare these apps to the ones in the next picture.

I firmly believe that there are more good developers than bad in the App Store. But, like anywhere else, the bad do exist. Take for example Automax, the developer with the fake WordPress blog. The picture above shows a selection of their apps (you can search the App Store by developer, too).

There are a lot of 5-star apps, but they all have reviews like the ones I showed you earlier. I personally own one unfortunately, and I can tell you that they include absolutely no instructions in their apps and the apps do not do what they are advertised to do. Or, at least they don't do it well. The pictures that accompany the apps are beautiful, but they are impossible to recreate yourself using Automax apps.

Same developer, I believe

I really believe this is the same exact developer selling the same apps under a different name.

Now, compare the Automax apps to the selection of apps by the developer called Aaab Media Group. Pretty much the same apps doing the same things with different names, same pricing structure, same type of reviews, same fake WordPress website when you push “App Support,” and same crappy quality of their “5-star” reviewed apps. I can't say for sure that this is the same developer selling under a different name, but with my limited investigation of these supposed 2 different developers, I'd say that it is very likely.

I bought one of their apps without thinking or investigating yesterday and it is identical in feel and quality to the app I own by Automax.

I really hate to say negative things and to call out somebody for doing something wrong, but what I hate more is the deceit that seems to exist here. And, I hate wasting my money. I also really don't want you to waste your money on a developer that exists by lying and prolifically putting out app after app that are supposed to do things they don't. Not to mention that they have effects in separate apps that most developers would give you altogether in 1 app.

My last clue that this is a careless developer is the size of most of their apps. They are HUGE for photography apps. This probably means that they don't know or care how to develop properly and how to create apps with smaller memory footprints.

So ends my cautionary tales from the App Store. For the most part, the App Store is far safer than its competitors due to Apple's strict guidelines. But, people are always going to get by the rules somehow. So, you be careful out there. And, I'll continue to look out for ways to help you navigate these sometimes treacherous waters.

That's it for me today. Until later, …

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